On Tuesday, Sept. 5, President Donald Trump formally ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy protecting deported immigrant children who live in the United States illegally. This decision has been the subject of substantial controversy in past weeks. Furthermore, many of the implications of the termination of DACA on Dreamers (a term given to these immigrant children) remain unclear.
Trump’s termination of the program follows suit with his overall sentiments concerning immigrants. In a statement on the rescinding of DACA, Trump said, “...I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”
In the same statement, Trump later said, “Only by the reliable enforcement of immigration law can we produce safe communities, a robust middle class, and economic fairness for all Americans.” For Trump, it is a matter of protecting jobs for Americans from those who enter the country illegally.
Dreamers, on the other hand, present a different narrative—one of an ongoing struggle to build a life in the United States.
In an interview with NPR, Dan Lee, a Dreamer, said the following concerning his future: “I just want to be able to know if I’m going to be able to keep what I built here. I want to be able to one day own a house, have a family, have a job and watch football on Sundays peacefully.”
Lee is not the only one who feels the anxiety of an unsure future in America. The New York Times reported the removal of the five-year-old program will result in the eligibility of approximately 800,000 adolescents for deportation.
At Covenant, both Dreamers and the campus community as a whole feel the effects of the action. International students, the campus community, and various administrative offices are addressing the issue.
But what does addressing the issue mean? For Covenant, it means being aware. Zach Plating (‘12), the head of international students in Covenant’s admissions office said, “From the standpoint of an admissions counselor, it does change, in some way, the way that I’m going to portray myself…because we want to look at [them] as a holistic person and a Christian and a student….”
Admissions, among other entities on campus, are operating under the same paradigm as Plating; they are focusing on all international students primarily as fellow believers and building an awareness of how they are presenting themselves to international students in light of the political context.
A continuously growing and evolving consciousness of these students and our relationship with them, then, is the response of Covenant to these questions. This evolving consciousness has taken visible forms, such as the renaming of the Diversity Club to the Multicultural Program. Though the ramifications and future of DACA remain uncertain, Covenant’s approach to them are clear. The Covenant community will fulfill its academic and spiritual obligations to all students as a school and as a group of Christians. These sentiments are nothing new.
In an interview with Sarah Ocando, Associate Dean of Students at Covenant College, she expressed the news does not change the way she thinks about international students. “The executive orders and things like that I don’t think have deeply changed my perspective on how I respond to potentially undocumented students or students under DACA. Because it has always felt sensitive to me.”
Rather than seeing these circumstances through the lens of the political conversation, Ocando chooses to relationally interact with this difficult context. In the same interview, Ocando stressed the importance of dealing with these things in a one-on-one setting. Plating echoed a similar approach in the Admissions Office, desiring to treat each student as their own unique case rather than trying to find a precedent with which to treat every international student.
This relational approach is helpful given that Covenant does not and can not know which international students are Dreamers unless those students chose to come forth. This policy is kept for the protection of said students (through safe spaces like the Multicultural Program, providing safe places for these students to share their stories). Because, more often than not, these students remain unidentified, the emphasis is not on DACA, but rather on community.
Furthermore, many students under DACA find it hard to trust institutions. This is another reason Covenant does not require international students to reveal their status as Dreamers or not. However, for this reason, it is important for students to approach these relationships with the same amount of grace and obligation, being members of the community who are not employed by the institution.
Whether or not individuals on campus are studying or working via DACA, it is important to be reminded of the responsibility of Christians towards all brothers and sisters in Christ.
In her interview, Ocando added, “We just have this really radical vision for what it means to be one body, but also what it means to genuinely look at someone as made in the image of God.” For many members of Covenant’s context, the concept of Imago Dei, though it has become a cliché in many Christian communities, finds necessary and urgent application in this context.
These theological ideas are a refrain for students starting even before freshman year, yet many members of the community have stressed the importance and application of these ideas in this context as the community continues to interact with brothers and sisters of various backgrounds and ethnicities.
As this conversation continues, Ocando urges students to recognize the complexities of the conversation. From politicians, to students, to school employees, there is a tapestry of perspectives within the issue. For this reason, it is imperative, as with many circumstances, to recognize that the issue is intricate and nuanced.
Thus, the panoply of voices must be observed to fully approach the issue of DACA, and create a helpful atmosphere for conversation within Covenant’s community.